University of Central Florida: Its hostility to free
speech had better change soon!
Bring a gun to a knife fight: In a settlement late last month [pdf] resulting from an April ruling against it by the courts, the University of Central Florida agreed to end its programs and policies designed to censor and even blacklist students who expressed opinions the university did not like.
The lawsuit [pdf] was brought by the legal organization Speech First, a student membership organization which acts to stop colleges from squelching the first amendment rights of students.
UCF officials agreed to pay $35,000 in legal fees, rewrite a harassment policy and discontinued the bias response team in a settlement with Speech First.
…The settlement “led to the elimination of UCF’s Stasi-like bias response team and ensured that the university’s policies actually consider the fundamental rights of their students,” Cherise Trump, the group’s executive director, wrote in a news release [pdf]. “Our win in the Eleventh Circuit not only set precedent in all of Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, but it also guarantees that universities recognize that the law is not on their side when they want to violate their students’ rights and shut down dissenting ideas.”
The college’s bias response teams were structured to report and punish any student for…
…any behavior or action directed towards an individual or group based upon [the] actual or perceived identity characteristics or background [of the complainant] without regard to whether the act is legal, illegal, intentional, or unintentional.
These Gastopo-like teams could also report on students who violated the university overly broad “discriminatory-harassment policy” as well as its overly broad computer policy. The former “discipline[d] students who engage[d] in ‘verbal acts, name-calling, [or] graphic or written statements (via the use of cell phone or the internet)’ that other students [found] offensive or ‘humiliating’, while the latter “[forbade] students from transmitting or displaying ‘images, sounds, or messages that reasonably could be perceived as being harassing, invasive, or otherwise unwanted.'”
All these policies were so broad they allowed anyone offended by anyone’s opinion to essentially outlaw all dissent. Since the university is run by leftists (as almost all colleges are in the U.S.), the result was the silencing and blacklisting of conservative students. The lawsuit outlines in detail three cases in particular.
Though the settlement is very clear, the university did not respond to emails asking how it will implement these changes throughout the school. Simply changing the boilerplate of a policy or dismantling the bias response teams is not enough. Teachers and administrators have to make it very clear that they will shut down any attempt to silence any student who expresses a dissenting view that offends someone. The answer to such whining is not to censor, but to tell the whiner to grow up. School officials have to have the courage to say this.
Since this is a public college in the state of Florida, whose government under Republican governor Ron DeSantis and a strongly Republican state legislature has not taken kindly to blacklisting and censorship, we should expect action, either by the school, or by DeDantis and the legislature, to make sure further censorship and blacklisting does not happen.
Note too that this is not the only free speech case that the University of Central Florida has recently lost. In 2021 it fired a teacher for criticizing Black Lives Matter on his personal Twitter feed. That teacher fought back in court, and in May won entirely, getting reinstated to his position with full back pay.
I expect that elected officials are keeping a very close eye on this college, and will move quickly if it shows any signs of backsliding.